Labor disputes and strikes have been major news across the nation this year. Trash workers are pressing the city of Long Beach for better pay and even baristas at some local Starbucks went on strike this month.

High school sports are not immune, and this season the local soccer teams will have to deal with a pay dispute between the CIF Southern Section and its soccer referees. It’s more of a boycott than a strike, but it will affect the kids either way.

The referees want a pay bump to account for the cost of living while the CIF-SS is staying committed to the deal both parties already had in place. Meanwhile, high school soccer coaches and their leagues have been left to fend for themselves by finding their own referees for their own games.

“It’s really disappointing how they’re treating these kids,” Cabrillo High School boys’ soccer coach Pat Noyes said. “This senior class has been through hell and back in four years. This is just wrong on both sides.”

Soccer players in the Class of 2024 had to deal with COVID-19 when they got to high school, and now this situation arises where they might have assistant coaches volunteering to referee games.

The administration of the Moore League here in Long Beach is currently working to staff all of its boys’ and girls’ league games coming up in December with club-affiliated or AYSO referees who are not assigned for normal CIF games.

“It sucks, man,” Cabrillo senior Alex Ochoa-Suarez said. “We’re trying to play. Hopefully they can do something about it.”

The current agreement between the referees and CIF has three-referee crews getting paid $75 each for a game in the Southern Section, with the center referee getting $80. If only two referees are working the game, they each receive $75. The CIF-SS and new commissioner Mike West announced earlier this month that the member schools are not allowed to go beyond the mandated rate.

Officially, the position of the CIF-SS is that the rate was agreed upon through the 2023-25 fee cycle, and therefore can’t be changed because of the section’s bylaws.

Many Long Beach soccer coaches are trying to handle the situation as best they can while not involving their players.

“I’ve insulated them from it, it’s not addressed,” Millikan High School boys’ soccer coach Jeff Schofield said. “If you polled my players they’d have no idea. My thing to my team is that we have to play so that referee decisions don’t impact the game. We have to play to a level where we aren’t relying on inexperienced referees to come in and make a call.”

Some coaches didn’t want to be quoted on the record for fear of retaliation or future bias from certain people in the referee community.

“It’s a challenge and I want to make sure that whatever I do, I don’t create waves with the referee association and with CIF,” Long Beach Poly High School boys’ soccer coach Eric Leon said. “ I do want to stand with the referees, I do want to support them, but ultimately my responsibility is to my athletes and the seniors that want to play, you know. It’s tough. Tough times.”

The logistics of having inconsistent or inexperienced referees out there during hotly contested rivalry games is still to be figured out — like what happens when a shoving match leads to a yellow or red card. Those disciplinary actions are usually tracked by the referees and CIF. A red card in high school soccer suspends a player for three games.

“You’ve gotta be very sure with red cards and saying kids are fighting, and that’s what concerns me,” Schofield said. “A new ref has very little experience with that, what does a fight look like? What’s a red card?”

Last spring, the Los Angeles City Section approved a pay hike for its soccer referees to $88 per game.

CIF lacrosse referees had a similar situation with a two-day work stoppage last year and received a 3% increase.